The Mediterranean Diet
What does the Mediterranean diet actually do to my body?
Eating the Mediterranean diet is associated with resisting depression, preventing heart attacks, reversing fatty liver, lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar levels and living longer.
Isn't dieting the wrong approach to eating healthy?
Diets are unhelpful when they are restrictive and lead your body to eat more food in the long run. The Mediterranean diet is not restrictive in this way. It is a way of eating that respects the body's need for nourishment and the brain's need for food that pleases and satisfies our taste buds. The Mediterranean Diet is an approach to eating that limits the intake of meat from large animals, limits the salt that can be added to meals and minimises the need for eating discretionary (processed) foods. All three of the factors have become very easy to access and eat everyday in Australia, which is thought to be a contributor to our unhealthy lifestyles. The average Australian now eats 35% of their dietary energy needs from the discretionary choices group and one third of Australian adults have high blood pressure from eating too much salt (that's nearly 6 million of us). The Mediterranean diet helps us keep our discretionary food choices to just 10% (which is a more appropriate proportion in the diet to achieving better health outcomes). This is partly due to the high intake of olive oil in this diet, which is a powerful appetite-regulating food that stops us from snacking at mid-meals.
What foods do you get to eat on the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean dietary approach helps you focus on eating plenty of olive oil, vegetables, legumes, fruits and grain foods, with moderate amounts of fish, milk products and nuts. The liberal use of olive oil adds flavours to meals and helps with appetite control as it takes four hours for meals to digest in the presence of fats and oils. This provides a rich supply of monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, omega-3 fats and soluble fibre that make the critical metabolic systems of the human body function really well. The gut, heart, brain, liver, pancreas and blood vessels are the organs in the body which will benefit from eating in this way.
How does it help change my cholesterol?
The Mediterranean Diet is now considered to be the optimal dietary approach to improve metabolic health and more specifically the blood cholesterol profile in people with or at risk of getting cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean dietary approach is a tasty way of enjoying food whilst also achieving a significant improvement in blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet can assist in the prevention of primary and secondary cardiovascular events (like heart attacks and strokes). You can use this approach to achieve a reduction in the "bad" LDL-cholesterol and an increase in "good" HDL-cholesterol. Such a dietary approach is also supported by Diabetes Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the British Heart Foundation and the Mayo Clinic for achieving favourable outcomes in cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
What should I do next?
It is a great idea to read more information about eating in this way before you decide on whether this is right for you. Keep in mind, lifestyle change is best achieved by gradually changing your unhelpful food behaviours and swapping them with more helpful ones that make you feel good inside.
- You could start by replacing one of your red meat meals with that of a tasty fish meal.
- You could also swap all of your cooking oils to only using extra virgin olive oil.
- You could add some lentils to your next casserole, stew, soup or salad.
If you are feeling more ambitious and want to get a realistic idea of how you could start putting together some Mediterranean meals, speak to us about meeting with our Accredited Practising Dietitians. They can set you up with a healthy eating guide with the portions of all the dietary approach mapped out for your body in a personalised way. You could have this eating guide designed for weight loss, weight gain or weight stability. It doesn't matter if you aren't moving about like a marathon runner, food alone can help you achieve great health outcomes. Our dietitians like to spend one hour with you initially to run the necessary calculations for personalising meals and explaining the food portions, food quality and some personal strategies that need attention first. After that you can decide if you want follow-up support or just some initial information. Future consultations could involve addressing emotional eating, mapping out meal ideas and recipes, healthy snacking and eating with awareness.
Have a look at our articles for some recipes that might inspire you to get started, like our traditional fassolada (white bean soup)...